Texas governor compares healthcare for trans kids to ‘child abuse’ in chilling attack

Texas Governor Greg Abbott speaks at a podium

Texas governor Greg Abbott has joined cruel calls by the attorney general to consider providing gender-affirming healthcare to trans youth as tantamount to “child abuse”.

In a letter sent Tuesday (22 February), Abbott reminded the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services that it is “responsible for protecting children from abuse” so must shield trans youth from treatment.

The Republican demanded the agency “to conduct prompt and thorough investigations of any reported instances of Texas children being subjected to abusive gender-transitioning procedures”.

Doctors and nurses, he said in the directive, could face jail time for failing to report such care and said parents and guardians should also incur criminal penalties for pursuing treatment on behalf of their trans children.

Abbott’s intervention signalled Texas‘ clearest intent yet to erase trans youth, with treatments such as puberty blockers, that researchers say is “life-saving,” being dubbed “monstrous” by the attorney general Ken Paxton.

On Monday, Paxton issued a 13-page legal opinion under the category “child abuse” providing public officials with a justification to hammer down on trans healthcare.

While an attorney general’s opinion does not carry the force of law and is just advisory, state officials are expected to take them into account in their decision-making.

“Sex-change operations and puberty blockers prescribed by kids is ‘child abuse’ under Texas law,” Paxton tweeted.

“These procedures are monstrous and tragic,” he tweeted before quoting his statement: “I’ll do everything I can to protect against those who take advantage of and harm young Texans.”

Paxton said that “it remains medically impossible to truly change the sex of an individual because this is determined biologically at conception”, a claim that Abbott said he agrees with.

Paxton issued his opinion, which is a written interpretation of current law, after Republican Fort Worth representative Matt Krause asked him to weigh in on the issue.

Neither Paxton’s opinion nor the governor’s directive has any legal effect, but both amount to domineering efforts to tear down the rights of trans people in Texas.

“The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) has now confirmed in the enclosed opinion that a number of so-called ‘sex change’ procedures constitute child abuse under existing Texas law,” Abbott wrote in his letter.

Texas attorney general Ken Paxton. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

“Because the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) is responsible for protecting children from abuse, I hereby direct your agency to conduct a prompt and thorough investigation of any reported instances of these abusive procedures in the State of Texas.

“As OAG Opinion No. KP-0401 makes clear, it is already against the law to subject Texas children to a wide variety of elective procedures for gender transitioning, including reassignment surgeries that can cause sterilisation, mastectomies, removals of otherwise healthy body parts, and administration of puberty-blocking drugs or supraphysiologic doses of testosterone or estrogen.”

A spokesperson for DFPS said in a statement to local news outlet KCAN that the agency “will follow Texas law as explained in attorney general opinion KP-0401”.

“At this time, there are no pending investigations of child abuse involving the procedures described in that opinion,” the spokesperson added. “If any such allegations are reported to us, they will be investigated under existing policies of Child Protective Investigations.”

Activists decry anti-trans Texas governor and attorney general: ‘This is an absolute nightmare’

Across the US, dozens of bills have appeared in statehouse dockets all with similar aims: To deeply restrict the lives of trans Americans, from the sports they play to the healthcare they can access.

As much as overwhelming evidence shows that providing gender-affirming healthcare to trans youth is more beneficial than hurtful, Republican legislators have increasingly sought to ban treatments altogether.

Withholding gender-affirming healthcare from trans youth can lead to higher rates of anxiety, depression and suicide, studies have found.

This culture clash more or less came out of nowhere, with a wave of more than 100 anti-trans laws being proposed in early 2021, according to legislative tracker Freedom for All Americans. And this trend has continued to rip into 2022, with dozens already introduced.

While similar proposals were pitched by Republicans in the past, efforts in 2021 and 2022 to chip away at trans rights are now often more organised and slick, with bill names that claim to be promoting “fairness” in single-sex sports or “protecting” children.

But as activists stress, this noble-sounding language is a front to single out trans folk and feed into transphobia. After all, the American Medical Association, American Psychiatric Association and American Academy of Pediatrics all support providing care for children experiencing gender dysphoria and have publicly opposed the push to restrict such healthcare options.

“This is an absolute nightmare,” tweeted Chase Strangio, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union.

“What [Paxton and Abbott] are doing is terrifying,” they added. “They are scaring kids, their families and their doctors into believing they will be investigating if they affirm their trans children and patients.

“This will cause severe stress and anxiety, could limit medical care, will discourage parents from loving and supporting their kids and could lead to illegal investigations into families.”